American arete: The man of steel as a rhetorical model

Date
2014-02-12
Authors
Evans, Jonathan
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Publisher
Abstract

There have many criticisms and explorations of Superman throughout his 75 plus year history. The character has become so engrained in the American psyche and culture that he is almost instantly recognizable. However, through all of this, he is a character who is rarely fully understood. Much of this stems from failures to understand "what" Superman is or what he potentially really and truly represents. Superman's continued endurance in American culture is the result of his embodiment and function as a model of American cultural excellence, of what the Greeks called arête. In all the treatments of Superman there has never been a true exploration of the character that has sought to connect, rhetorically, the persuasive power of Superman as a model to the promotion of an American conception of Greek arête. Superman's function as a model, as a rhetorical model, according to the definition given by Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca in The New Rhetoric, operates as a guarantee, in a archetypal level the very best qualities, of virtues that have taken root in America since its conception as a nation. Superman is no mere comic book character, but rather the amalgamation and embodiment of classical concepts of excellence and virtue evolved and refined through the lens of the American immigrant experience, and given form. By understanding or beginning to understand how this came to be represents a potential point for understanding what America is as well. This dissertation does not propose to fully answer this question as much as it wishes to draw critical attention to how powerful and impactful a character like Superman can be on a culture at large. By doing this it is hoped that greater recognition and understanding of fictional superheroes as epidictic expressions can be better appreciated and studied by a culture at large as it continues to accept such heroes already as entertainment.

Description
Keywords
Rhetoric, Cultural anthropology, Language, literature, and linguistics, Social sciences, American arete, Comic books, Superman, The new rhetoric
Citation